Thursday, October 6, 2016

Joey's Soapbox: My 2016 Somewhat Biased Division Series Picks

Hope you're ready for my wicked awesome Division Series picks.

Hey you guys!  It's your fav'rit sports soothsayer, Joey Beartran, and I'm ready to share my division series picks with you.  And if the division series games are anything like the wild card games, you're in for quite a treat.  (Even if the Mets aren't one of the teams doing the treating.  #BlameBumgarner)

In this week-long wall-to-wall baseball extravaganza, we have a division series rematch that I'd love to have a ringside seat for (Blue Jays vs. Rangers), a matchup of two original American League teams (Red Sox vs. Indians), a series that will rack up plenty of frequent flyer miles for all involved (Dodgers vs. Nationals) and the beginning of the Cubs' quest to end their thousand-year drought without a title (give or take a few hundred years).

I considered many factors in determining my winners for each series.  Some of them required asking my Studious Metsimus colleague/nerd for statistical assistance, while some were just gut feelings (or maybe that gut feeling was my stomach growling; they kinda sound alike).

Now it's time to share those picks with you.  Will my picks agree with yours?  Maybe.  Will my reasons for those picks be similar to yours?  Probably not.  Am I wasting your time by asking so many questions?  Definitely.  (No more dilly-dallying, here are my picks.)

American League Division Series

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Texas Rangers

This is the series everyone wanted to see.  Last year in the division series, Joey Bats (no relation) took time out from following everyone on Twitter to produce the Greatest Bat Flip of All-Time.  And earlier this season, his face became the recipient of the Greatest Slow Motion Punch of All-Time.

Odor's punch certainly did not stink.

That being said, both teams have to trade in the fisticuffs for other stuff, like actually playing baseball.

The two teams squared off (pun kinda sorta intended) seven times during the regular season, with Toronto taking four of the seven contests.  The three games won by Texas were all by the slimmest of margins - one run.  That shouldn't be surprising, as the Rangers finished the year with a jaw-dropping 36-11 record in one-run games.  That means the 95-win Texas team managed to go just 59-56 when their games were decided by two or more tallies.

So clearly the key for Toronto in this series is to make sure the game never gets to one-run status, right?  As a perfectly strange television character from the island of Mypos once said to his fictional cousin Larry, "Don't be ridiculous."

The key is clearly who can manage to out-slug the other (okay, that pun was pretty obviously intended).  Toronto won its wild card game against Baltimore with a three-run homer in extra innings.  Meanwhile, Texas was no slouch in the home run department either, as they managed to sock 215 homers.  The team leader in this department was part-time second baseman/part-time pugilist Rougned Odor, who socked 33 balls out of the yard.  Odor was one of five Rangers to hit 20 or more homers, while second-half acquisitions Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez combined to hit 26 HR in just 461 at-bats with Texas.

Now we all know good pitching beats good hitting, and Toronto had two starting pitchers (J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez) who combined to go an incredible 35-6 in 41 decisions.  But as my Studious Metsimus colleague/nerd tells me, that means the rest of the team's pitchers combined to go 54-67 in their 121 decisions.  So all Texas has to do is be patient, foul off a pitch or twelve, and someone will find a way to blow it for Toronto.  And don't be surprised if they turn it into a one-run game while they're in the process of blowing it.

Prediction:  Rangers in 5.

Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians

Here's a question for you.  After the Cubs' thousand-year drought without a World Series title, which team has gone the longest without sipping the championship champagne?  That would be the Cleveland Indians, who last won it all in 1948.

Prior to 2016, the city of Cleveland was known for three things - the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Christmas Story House, and non-championship winning sports teams.  In addition to the title-starved Indians, the Cleveland Browns had never played in a Super Bowl.  The Cleveland Cavaliers had never won an NBA title.  And the Cleveland Barons hockey team played two seasons in the NHL (winning 47 of the 160 games they played) before merging with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978.

That all changed this year, as the Cavaliers finally won their first championship after two previous unsuccessful appearances in the NBA Finals.  In addition, the Lake Erie Monsters (an American Hockey League team now known as the Cleveland Monsters) won their first Calder Cup in 2016 after having never won a postseason series in team history.

Two championships for Cleveland in one calendar year?  They've reached their quota for the century.  Sorry, Indians.

Prediction:  Red Sox in 4.

National League Division Series

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals

The Dodgers are one of the storied franchises in baseball history.  Their 29 postseason appearances are the most by a National League team and trail only the New York Yankees (52 playoff trips) in that department.  The Nationals began their existence as the Montreal Expos in 1969 and have won just one playoff series as a franchise (accomplished by the Expos in 1981).

The Dodgers have a now-healthy Clayton Kershaw (1.69 ERA, 0.725 WHIP in 21 starts) and Rookie of the Year candidate Kenta Maeda (16 wins, 3.48 ERA, 1.139 WHIP, 179 Ks in 175.2 IP) atop their rotation.  They also have closer Kenley Jansen (47 saves, 1.83 ERA, 1.44 FIP, 0.67 WHIP, 104 Ks in 68.2 IP) to finish things up for the several hundred or so Dodger fans that decided not to beat the freeway traffic home.

The Nationals have a not-healthy Stephen Strasburg who is out of the NLDS.  They also have Tanner Roark, who had a good ERA (2.83), but the highest FIP (3.79) in the starting rotation.  Granted, the Nats have Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer atop their rotation, but he's pretty much the only sure thing in Washington.  As far as their bullpen goes, Washington had ten relievers pitch 35 or more innings this year.  Six of the ten had an ERA north of 4.00, including Oliver Perez, who was just a hair under 5.00.

Non-batting champion Daniel Murphy may have had a career year, but he's butt-hurt right now, literally, and he hasn't homered since August 26.  He also has just six RBI in his last 85 plate appearances.

Including Murphy and his problematic posterior, a total of eight players on the Nationals had 375 or more at-bats.  Five of the eight batted .244 or lower.  Murphy (.347 batting average) and rookie Trea Turner (.342 batting average in 307 AB) were the main reasons why the Nationals' .256 team batting average wasn't near the bottom of the league.

And then there's Bryce Harper.  The 2015 National League Most Valuable Player batted just .231 with a .382 slugging percentage and 108 strikeouts from April 27 to the end of the season.  That's in 128 games, bro.  And I'm pretty sure he's responsible for the rash of creepy clown sightings across the country.  Isn't that right, Bryce?

Leave it to Bryce Harper to be Captain Literal.

When in doubt, don't pick the team with Oliver Perez on its payroll, its best hitter experiencing a real life pain in the butt, and its superstar creating massive clown hysteria across the land.

Prediction:  Dodgers in 4.

San Francisco Giants vs. Chicago Cubs

Here are four reasons why even a person without a brain would call this pick a no-brainer.

The Giants will be down by two games and facing elimination by the time Madison Bumgarner gets a chance to pitch in Game Three.

The Cubs will be looking to erase the bitter taste left in their mouths by their 2015 postseason experience.  You know, the postseason that ended for them after not having a single lead in the four-game NLCS against the Mets.

The Giants' even-numbered year thing is getting old.  It's like 2015 old, or 2013 old, or even 2011 old.  In other words, the fact that people are still using that as a reason to pick them is pretty odd.

And how could I ever pick a team to win after they just ended the Mets' season?  I mean, really!  It's like picking Ray Ramirez to be your kid's gym teacher.  You wouldn't even do that if you have your kid fully insured. 

Prediction:  Cubs in 3.

Sorry, Ray.  A joke about you was needed to cheer me up after the Mets' bitter season-ending defeat.

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